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Big Week of Action to Defend Climate, Public Lands

Guardians Moves to Overturn Sales of More Than 2 Million Acres of Public Lands for Fracking

Fracking on public lands in North Park, Colorado.

As 2020 gets underway, WildEarth Guardians is ringing in the New Year by delivering another round of climate accountability to the oil and gas industry and their cronies in the Trump Administration.

Together with our partners with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, this week we dropped two new major legal filings on the Administration. Both challenge the failure of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to address the cumulative climate impacts of selling American public lands for fracking.

Enforcing Landmark Federal Court Ruling

On Monday January 6, 2020, we filed the opening brief in a lawsuit targeting the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of more than 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming.

We originally won this lawsuit, as well as an injunction on drilling in Wyoming, back in March of 2019. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras held the federal government illegally failed to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from selling public lands for fracking both regionally and nationally.

The ruling was hailed as a landmark victory. It ultimately compelled the Bureau of Land Management to also acknowledge that it had also failed to comply with federal law when selling more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Colorado and Utah.

“[The] agency must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”

— U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management refused to comply with the court’s order.

Instead of honestly assessing and disclosing the climate consequences of authorizing more oil and gas extraction, the agency rushed to do more paperwork and ultimately re-approve the same decision the federal judge said was illegal.

While we tried to enforce Judge Contreras’ injunction, he ultimately directed us to amend our lawsuit. In doing so, he warned that he would not hesitate to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking and encouraged the agency to refrain from approving any more drilling.

So, in late September 2019, we amended our lawsuit and now we’re proceeding to brief the matter. With our opening brief now filed, a ruling is likely by the end of 2020.

A New Lawsuit and a Major Climate Action Ramp-up

Not content to just challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to account for the climate consequences of selling 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming, on Thursday January 9, 2020, we filed a brand new lawsuit targeting the Trump Administration’s sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking.

Oil and gas extraction on public lands in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin.

Together with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, our latest suit is a major escalation in our efforts to defend the climate from fracking on public lands.

The case targets the sale of public lands to the oil and gas industry in five western states, including Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. It includes a whopping 1.9 million acres of public lands, including more than 1.6 million acres in Wyoming.

Click here to see an interactive map of the lands sold to the oil and gas industry that are the subject of our latest lawsuit >>

It’s the biggest lawsuit that’s ever been filed over public lands oil and gas leasing.

Our latest case aims to build on our previous win and secure broader and deeper accountability to climate by the Bureau of Land Management.  And it comes as the Trump Administration is not only taking aim at the disclosure of climate impacts under federal law, but actively denying the climate crisis.

The federal government’s own numbers show that oil and gas produced from public lands and waters in the United States produce 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And with scientists increasingly highlighting the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands to protect the climate, we have to push back harder than ever on the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking.

Our aim? To overturn the sale of every acre of public lands sold to the oil and gas industry by the Trump Administration. With our latest lawsuit, we’re on track to make that happen.

White Horse Creek Wilderness Study Area in the Red Desert of Wyoming, where public lands have been sold for fracking under the Trump Administration.

Most importantly, this week of action to defend our climate and public lands from fracking is critical for confronting the climate impacts of the entire federal onshore and offshore oil and gas programs.

Currently, Democratic candidates for U.S. President are largely endorsing an end to selling public lands for fracking. Our legal actions stand to provide the motivation and backing for any Democratic candidate for President to follow through with this vision.

And if Democrats don’t win in 2020, our legal advocacy will serve as an important check on the Trump Administration. Either way, our lawsuits are setting the stage for accountability to climate and to public lands.

If we have any chance of confronting the climate crisis, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. That starts with our public lands.

Stay tuned for more as WildEarth Guardians and its partners continue to hold the line for our climate, our future, and for the American West.

Jeremy Nichols

About the Author

Jeremy Nichols | Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

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